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China upsets India’s NSG plans at Seoul plenary meeting

NEW DELHI, IFTIKHAR GILANI :Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself leading a heightened diplomacy, India’s bid to secure membership to the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) hit a dead end on Friday. Atleast 16 countries, led by China, raked up procedural issues as well as India not signing Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to scuttle India’s chances to the elite nuclear club. An upset ministry of external affairs (MEA) in a clear reference to Beijing, said one country persistently created procedural “hurdles” during the two-day discussions at Seoul, where the NSG concluded its plenary meeting.

While the Opposition bayed for the blood of the PM, terming the developments in Seoul as an “embarrassment” to India, many senior diplomats argued that India’s attempt to seek a high-table at the nuclear club was worth trying. Former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, who was instrumental in getting a waiver from the NSG in 2008, said there was nothing wrong in making a bid. India should no longer fear foreign policy failure. “If India sees an opportunity, New Delhi should be prepared to seize it even if there are risks involved,” he said. Many others also believes that diplomatic blitzkrieg for the NSG was also to test waters for making bid for more higher table, like that of a permanent seat at the UN Security Council.

Strategic expert and director of Society for Policies Study, Uday Bhaskar said while the outcome was disappointing, it was not surprising. “It is evident that despite the determined attempt by the Modi government to persuade NSG members to support India. This did not materialise due to certain cynical realpolitik considerations,” he said. While saying that it was not a not a major setback for New Delhi, he called for recalibrating of nuclear diplomacy and outreach to ensure that its credibility to the nuclear domain is appropriately acknowledged.

The NSG works through consensus with even a single country having capacity to halt a decision. Surprise for Indian diplomats was reservations expressed by Brazil and Switzerland. Both of them had earlier committed to support India’s bid. Fresh from Iranian nuclear crisis, the countries forcefully argued to making a case for countries to enter into the NPT, before being allowed to do nuclear trade. They also apprehended, that an exception granted to India would be exploited by other non-NPT countries as well. Pakistan’s application for the membership is also pending before the NSG.

The criticism of India was not only that it had not signed the NPT, but also that it had not fulfilled the commitments it made while getting NSG waiver in 2008. Diplomatic sources here said that some countries raised the issue of India’s progress towards CTBT and also separation of its civilian and military nuclear reactors and reports about the safety of nuclear programme.

The MEA statement, while blaming one particular country, said signing of the NPT was not necessary as per the NSG rules. But officials here say, there was no problem in signing the NPT if India is formally declared sixth legitimate nuclear power.

At the end meeting, the NSG countries in a statement declared “firm support” for “full, complete and effective” implementation of the NPT as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime. The wording was enough to carry a message that no exception will be made in the case of India. It, however, said the grouping will continue to have discussions on participation of countries which have not signed the NPT. Confirming that India’s application was discussed during the two-day deliberations, the NSG statement, under a sub-heading ‘Outreach’, said it shared information on all aspects of the 2008 Statement on Civil Nuclear Cooperation with India and discussed the NSG relationship with India.

MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup said despite procedural hurdles persistently raised by ‘one country’, a three-hour long discussion took place on Thursday night on the issue of future participation in the NSG, in which an overwhelming number of those who took the floor supported India’s membership and appraised India’s application positively. “We thank each and every one of them. It is also our understanding that the broad sentiment was to take this matter forward,” he said. He added that an early positive decision by the NSG would have allowed India to move forward on the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Chinese negotiator, Wang Qun, who is director general of China’s Department of Arms Control, told reporters that there was no consensus on the NSG membership of non-NPT countries like India. He insisted that for a country to be a member of NSG, signing of the NPT “is a must”. This rule has not been set by China but by the international community, he added. Wang warned “if exceptions are allowed here or there on the question of NPT, the international non-proliferation will collapse altogether”.

Chinese stand shows that Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with President Xi Jinping at Tashkent had failed to yield results. Modi had urged Xi to make a “fair and objective” assessment of India’s credentials as the two leaders met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit.

Official sources said that China was initially joined by Austria, Ireland, Switzerland and Brazil to question admission of a non-NPT country. They were later joined by other countries as well, who though mild raised the issue that once a window is opened, it would be discriminatory to block other non-NPT countries. In the NSG plenary, chaired by ambassador Song Young-wan of South Korea, the participating governments also called upon all states to exercise vigilance and to ensure effective implementation of all United Nations Security Council resolutions relevant to the work and purposes of the NSG.

While the NSG did discuss India’s case for three hours on Thursday evening, Pakistan’s case was not taken up at all. Pakistan’s foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry remained in Seoul during the NSG plenary meeting, and it is learnt that his team met representatives from 25 countries on the sidelines of the session.

Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman Nafees Zakaria said Islamabad would continue to highlight its strong credentials and pursue NSG membership based on non-discriminatory and objective criteria. He further said that Pakistani and Indian applications cannot be considered in isolation from the goal of maintaining strategic stability in South Asia.

Diplomacy no tamasha: Cong
Stating that the PM needs to realise that diplomacy needs “depth and seriousness and not public tamasha,” Congress senior spokesman Anand Sharma said, “We do not know why India showed its desperation and allowed the country to be equated with Pakistan on the issue.” The party also deplored external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj statement on Pakistan’s entry into the NSG, “based on merit”.

“Absolutely shocking to equate India with Pakistan whose non-proliferation record is deplorable from the way it sold the nuclear material to the rogue states,” former Maharashtra CM and MoS to former PM Manmohan Singh Prithviraj Chavan told reporters here. Asked if India should sign the NPT, Chavan retorted: “Absolutely not… it’s a discriminatory treaty.”

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